Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why I'm Not a 'Feminist'

Via Ta-Nehisi Coates, E.J. Graff's commentary from Slate's navel-gazing on the use of the label "feminist" :
Who gets to be a feminist? It's the wrong question. And debating it leads to the wrong answers. Identity labels always mislead. 

They don't disclose the contents of the bottle; they proclaim that the bottle is powerful, meaningful, and important. Debates over who gets to wear those labels are tribal battles about who runs the group and who gets to patrol its borders, about who holds power. Declaring that someone is--or isn't--"really" white, black, Jewish, Christian, radical, conservative--or feminist--says nothing about the value of particular policies, ideas, or goals... 

Here's the debate I believe is genuinely worth having: What would full equality look like--and what do we have to do to get there?

I think including ethnic groups muddies the point a bit, but in the main I think this is exactly right. Anyone who believes that Glenn Beck is an actual heir to the mantle of Martin Luther King, has deeper problems that can not be corrected by fiddling with labels.

Because I am for equal rights for all people, I refer to myself as a "classical liberal" or "libertarian"; and while I understand that activists who concentrate on certain issues feel they need to label themselves as specifically interested in issues of a certain gender, race or other identity/classification, I think the specialization obscures the point of freedom and equality generally. I am a black man and a libertarian, but I am not a 'black libertarian' as a political identity or focus.

But 'feminist,' as a word, bothers me.  I'm not a 'homosexualist' because I believe in full and unfettered rights of gays (not to mention the diversity of queer identities not encapsulated in the term). I don't like the term "straight ally" because that perpetuates the ubiquitous war metaphor and accepts a barrier between straights and gays (or other queer identifications) when the whole point is equality. (This is the same tension present in the 'colorblind society' versus 'accept me as a black person and all that entails' narratives, but that's another story.) I just am more concerned with the views and laws that prevent equality and justice and less concerned with nominally identifying myself in relation to specific injustices.

Look, if you want to call me a feminist, fine. I liken it to "African-American" --it's not a term that I use for myself or others, for various reasons, but I'm not offended by it. It's just a preference.

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